Her story is one every Canadian should know

It’s about time.

Canada, the country of her birth, is finally acknowledging Frances Kelsey for her incredible achievements.

The announcement that she will be awarded the Order of Canada comes decades after numerous accolades conferred upon her in the United States.

She received the President’s Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service in 1962, the highest honour that can be bestowed upon a civilian, and in 1995 she had a planet named after her. In 2000 she was inducted into the National

Women’s Hall of Fame and in 2001 she was named a Virtual Mentor for the American Medical Association.

Yet the Cowichan Valley-born hero has remained unsung in Canada until now. Now age 100, it’s remarkable that Kelsey is still alive to see it.

So why all the hoopla over Kelsey?

Even many Cowichan Valley residents probably don’t know how incredible this woman’s career has been and the service she rendered to us.

In 1960 Kelsey began work as a scientist for the American Food and Drug Administration.

In her very first month on the job, she was pressured to approve the release of a sleeping pill for pregnant women. That drug was called thalidomide.

She refused.

The rest is history. Since then, thalidomide has been proven to have caused serious, debilitating birth defects. Just this year the Canadian government agreed to pay victims of thalidomide a lump sum, then an annual income for life – unfortunately for us, Kelsey didn’t work for the Canadian government, and the drug was approved for use here.

We can only imagine the pressure Kelsey must have been under, both from the pharmaceutical company and her own government to approve thalidomide.

Remember, too, that it was an era where women were met with hostility in many careers, let alone science, where they continue to struggle even today (see Nobel laureate Tim Hunt’s comments about women being a distraction in the lab circa 2015).

Kelsey is someone who is more than deserving. Every Canadian should know her story.

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